Review: Upper Space

Article published: Wednesday, October 26th 2011

Upper Space is a not-for-profit, European street art organisation that has been working in Manchester for the last 6 months. It dedicates itself to “deconstructing the myths” forced upon us by the beautiful, smiling forms that haunt us from advertising billboards.

Upper space as a whole consists of academics, activists and community organisers. Their projects and artistic interventions focus on “promoting alternative ideas about public space” and fighting for “social and environmental justice.”  As of 2011 they have turned this focus upon the governments’ “devastating public spending cuts”, working with young homeless people from the city of Manchester.  Upper Space feels that it is unacceptable for a government to bail out those responsible for the economic crisis whilst making life harder and harder for everyone else. The inspiration for their new project, ‘Home’, are the disturbing social housing and housing benefit fund cuts and their effects on Britain’s most vulnerable.

The scale of work for this project is impressive, from screen-prints for sale in support for Upper Spaces’ partner charity the Limes Hostel for the Homeless, to providing banners for people to display at anti-cuts marches. The main body and power of this project however comes in the form of street art and the exhibits the artists have placed on our streets.

Public spaces are often a battlefield for our attentions and as is the nature of this art, the galleries that host it are the streets themselves. When I first saw the bird homes attached to lampposts and road signs around the city I didn’t feel the immediate buzz I had come to expect from street art. It took me a little while to realize what I was looking at before the beauty of them struck me and it became apparent how they conveyed their message. The decorated birdhouses, of which the most powerful had one large eye painted on the front, had an eerie grip on the streets.

As I looked at them I became conscious of the eyes becoming more and more visible in their settings before they actually seemed to become the street’s own. It is then when I noticed the emotions buried within them: some of fear, some of anger and some of shock. The empathy the eye induced was felt for the street itself.  The bird homes beckon you to come and look inside them, where the artists have contained more explicit messages about these emotions and the problems of homelessness in Manchester.

This art is incredibly beautiful as well as clever, avoiding being obvious or clichéd. Most notably, however, it is powerfully emotive.  Having seen this art that can compete for our attentions on the street, it is difficult for me to disagree with the artists that the question is not “can we change things” but “how far can we go?”

Edward Collins

More: Culture, Exhibition, Manchester


  1. Maybe I live in the wrong part of town, but where do can these projects be seen?

    Comment by Susan Donimo on November 11, 2011 at 12:00 pm

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